Attention advertisers: what’s bigger than Sunday Night Football and
Dancing with the Stars, and nearly as big as American Idol? Answer: the
audience of iOS social games.

At least that’s according to smartphone analytics provider and mobile ad
network Flurry, which has a strong message for advertisers.

That message:

Social games on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices are competing for television viewers. In fact, these apps, tracked on the Flurry network alone, comprise of a daily audience of more than 19 million who spend over 22 minutes per day using these apps.  Treated as a consumer audience, its size and reach rank somewhere between NBC’s Sunday Night Football and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and only 4 million viewers shy from beating the number one prime-time show on television, FOX’s American Idol. 

While it’s impressive that 19m people are spending, on average, 22 minutes per day playing social games on Apple devices (according to Flurry), that sort of usage pales in comparison to television at large.

According to Nielsen’s Q1 2010 Three Screens Report, the average American watches a whopping 158 hours of television in the home each month, and another 9 hours and 30 minutes of time shifted television. The former number alone equates to over five and a half hours of television watched each day!

Needless to say, comparing the audiences of handful of individual prime-time shows to the daily audience of a network of iOS social games is a somewhat odd way to establish that iOS social games are somehow close to “beating” television as a medium, which is precisely what Flurry is trying to do.

More baffling are Flurry’s comments about the decline of television soap operas in the United States, which Flurry tries to present as evidence of television’s decline. But is digital responsible for the decline of soap operas in the United States? No. The real culprit: evolving consumer tastes. Put simply, soap operas, a product of a bygone era, simply don’t resonate that much with younger generations of television viewers. That’s not exactly surprising. In 20 years, does anyone really expect the reality TV format to be as popular as it is today?

But back to iOS social games. Are the iPhone and iPad important? Of course. And does their importance have implications for advertisers, as Flurry suggests? Of course. But spinning data to make a flawed argument isn’t helpful. While a lot of the mediascape involves zero sum games on paper, the truth is that the media pie has expanded significantly thanks to new technologies. Mobile devices, in particular, have created opportunities for consumers to interact with media when they otherwise wouldn’t.

Which is precisely why advertisers and those who work with them shouldn’t look at the world and put a ‘versus‘ between mediums. At the end of the day, it’s not about arbitrary audience size metrics. It’s about engagement. Most major advertisers can’t simply hope to effectively reach consumers through one medium or individual platform. They have to engage consumers through multiple mediums, using multiple platforms.

Television may be far from perfect, but it’s still one of the most important mediums out there, and the amount of money spent reaching consumers through the most popular television properties demonstrates that. Can mobile be one of the most important advertising channels? For some advertisers, it absolutely has the potential, and plenty of effort is being made to exploit its unique characteristics. Yet there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Flurry, for instance, writes that “compared to a top television series, which airs 22 episodes a season, advertisers can reach a larger consumer audience through applications 15 times more frequently.” But that’s not really true, because doing so would require an advertiser to buy media across a significant number of apps. Flurry alone tracks 50,000 apps. Obviously, networks like Flurry are there to give advertisers access to lots of apps in a single buy, but there is no 30-second spot for mobile social games; integrating ads for maximum effect in a social game would realistically require a game-to-game effort to get the type of impact one might see from a good television ad campaign.

But I digress.

At the end of the day, companies in the mobile space looking to cash in on mobile’s potential as an advertising channel would be wise to position mobile as a channel, not as the victor in an imaginary zero sum game in which [insert channel name] is dying because of mobile.